Not Getting What You Paid For

When the product changes after you bought it.

The free high-resolution photo of person, photography, money, child, business, singing, euro, merit, businessman, finance, wealth, profit, performing arts, stock exchange, revenue, investments, speculate, stock broker, speculation, share price, capital market , taken with an NIKON D3200 02/10 2017 The picture taken with 250.0mm, f/7.1s, 10/400s, ISO 400 The image is released free of copyrights under Creative Commons CC0. You may download, modify, distribute, and use them royalty free for anything you like, even in commercial applications. Attribution is not required.
The image is released free of copyrights under Creative Commons CC0.

When I was looking for images for the “Spying on Ourselves” post, I came several reports that Ring is going to start charging for features that were once free. The Verge:

Yet another company will charge its customers more money for using existing features as the subscription-based smart home becomes the norm. Amazon-owned Ring is making several free features part of its paid subscription program starting on March 29th. As of that date, if you have a Ring video doorbell or camera, you will no longer have access to Home and Away Modes in the app without a paid subscription, starting at $3.99 a month ($39.99 a year). Modes is a simple way to tell all your cameras to stop detecting motion when you’re home and start when you leave.


This move, buried in an update on the company’s support site, makes the once very inexpensive DIY security system one of the more expensive options in a competitive field. Neither of its main competitors — SimpliSafe and Abode — charge anything for the ability to self-monitor your alarm system (including arming or disarming the system from the app or receiving notifications).

This follows news from a few days ago that Fitbit is stopping offering services customers assumed they were getting when they bought the product:

It’s a familiar story: a successful company is bought by a huge conglomerate and run into the ground, while the conglomerate takes the smaller company’s best ideas and products and incorporates them into its brand. Sadly, it looks like the acquisition of Fitbit by Google’s parent company Alphabet is unlikely to play out any differently.


Unfortunately, now that Alphabet has the Google Pixel Watch, equipped with Fitbit’s health technology and features like fall detection, it doesn’t need four different sizes of Fitbit cannibalizing its user base. But, rather than discontinuing Fitbit device production and allow the line to run its course, it’s taken steps to actively degrade the devices by retroactively removing features. These features include Fitbit Challenges and Groups, the removal of which has effectively gutted the Fitbit user community.

Fitbit users have also had their access to offline music access revoked with the end of support for Pandora and Deezer, and the removal of the facility to sync their device with Fitbit Connect. Fitbit Connect, if you remember, was the original piece of software used to pair your Fitbit with your computer and upload your music library; ironically, it’s the very software that allowed the original Fitbit to take the world by storm.

Alphabet has even shut down the facility for developers to create third-party apps for Fitbit OS, preventing new content from being created for the platform. Instead, the emphasis will be on Google’s own Wear OS, with future Fitbits likely relegated to slender trackers, with no need for a full operating system. Why would Google want bigger Fitbit watches when it’s poured so much money into developing its flagship Pixel Watch?

The end result is that customers who made their purchases based on those features now own a device that’s fundamentally different from the one they originally bought; and to get those features back they must upgrade to the Pixel Watch, or buy a device from another brand. Future prospective Fitbit buyers will be pushed towards the Pixel Watch, allowing Google to make full use of its Wear OS platform, and the entire thing will be over before you can say “Fitbit Sense 3”

In the technology space, we’ve all become accustomed to “free” services that we’ve relied on go away as they get sold or companies decide they’re no longer profitable. Or even “free” services that become paid ones, whether its online newspapers and magazines putting up paywalls or cloud companies that offered unlimited free photo storage deciding that, no, you have to pay after all or you’ll lose all the photos in your library.

The examples here, though, strike me as different. Customers who bought a Ring camera or a Fitbit device have a reasonable expectation that they’ll be able to access the services that were advertised as being included for the reasonable life of the product. If you pay a few hundred dollars to set up an alarm system, only to discover that the once-included monitoring system is now an expensive upcharge, you’ve essentially been defrauded.

An example that vexes me is that, a couple of years back, we bought an LG UHD television for the living room. It’s one of the so-called smart TVs with multiple built-in apps but we’ve found it much easier to simply cast to it from out phones via a Chromecast. It’s a secondary set, as we mostly watch shows and movies in the basement theater room.

At any rate, just about every time I turn the thing on it needs to run a software update. With some frequency, the update requires me to accept some new terms of service. I have no choice in the matter: I either accept the terms, whatever the hell they are, or the television I already paid for under whatever the hell the original terms of service were (I never agreed to those, or indeed, had any ideas that there would be any, before purchasing it) becomes a brick. I honestly don’t know how that’s even legal.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Matt Bernius says:

    This is even true with object that we don’t think of as software. Electronic books on major platforms like the Kindle can and have had “content updates” pushed to them without necessarily notifying the person who had purchased that (or giving them any chance to not accept it). This came up with the recent Dahl case. On the one hand, it’s great for fixing typos. But it’s still a reminder of a shifting of what it means to purchase and own something.

  2. charon says:

    It’s one of the so-called smart TVs with multiple built-in apps

    I am elderly and out of touch but humor me – what kind of multiple apps could a smart TV have?

    I bought a replacement recently after one of my old TV’s went to TV Heaven, but the only smart thing about it I am aware of is it sees my WiFi that it uses for its built-in Roku. Does your TV know more tricks than that?

  3. Argon says:

    Cory Doctorow has a name for this. He calls it the ‘enshittification’. And it’s a reminder that the modern business model of connected devices is ‘you don’t own anything you buy’.

  4. Jen says:

    This sort of thing drives me absolutely around the bend. I consider (as you noted) situations like reader paywalls different than the purchase of a product like a TV or Fitbit.

    I’ll note that corporate behavior like this falls under my adage of “if you don’t want to be a regulated industry, don’t behave like an industry that needs to be regulated.”

    Keep this up, and regulation is likely.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I honestly don’t know how that’s even legal.

    Because in this county, corporate profits come before any other concerns.

  6. Kathy says:


    Typically there’s an app for every streaming service, or most of them.

    Some allow you to connect a USB thumb drive to record and play back what you watch or stream.

  7. Kathy says:


    Wait till automakers go on a subscription/leasing model only, and then begin with surcharges for previously free luxury features like brakes.

  8. Thomm says:

    @Kathy: Toyota and BMW now have heated seats as a subscription thing. Ford is working on a system where the vehicle, if it has self-drive capability, will reposess itself if payments on the lease are not made. The Ford thing isn’t a huge surprise for those of us in the business…they handle leasors like garbage.

  9. charon says:


    Roku looks to me like one app that accesses every streaming platform. Any that are not on the default menu can be added to it.

  10. Jen says:

    @Thomm: What happens to the car if someone adds after-market seat warmers?

    I’m in New England and swore I’d never have a car without seat warmers, until the make/model/available car I wanted to buy a few years ago didn’t have them. I had the dealer make the changes (swapped out fabric seats for leather and added heated seats) and it was a fairly easy process. My husband added heated seats to one of his former vehicles after-market too.

    Does the car stop working?

  11. Joe says:

    I had a good Bose wireless speaker that I used to stream from my Apple desktop into another room. At some point, it just stopped working with the desktop (although it still works with my iPad and iPhone). When I went to try and find a replacement, I struck out twice with one of the two wireless speakers requiring (surprise!) a paid subscription app just to work with my phone. Those speakers went straight back to the store, but no one can explain why none are now compatible with the desktop other than “IOS, amiright?” (Frankly, no one seems to understand why I would want to run the wirless speaker from anything other than my iPhone.)

  12. Kathy says:


    My Philips TV uses the Roku OS. What you describe seems to ve the same thing. But each service is a separate app.

    I’m guessing someone will integrate full PC functionality to TV sets soon. The tools are all there. Essentially think putting a smartphone inside the set. As is, PCs stream TV perfectly well right now.

    The problem is placement. I couldn’t work on my TV even if it were a top of the line PC because it’s not on a desk with a chair. If the demand is there, someone will figure something out.

  13. Mu Yixiao says:


    The seat warmers are already in the car. It’s a software lock that they remotely unlock when you pay your subscription.

    So… you’ve paid for the hardware, but aren’t allowed to use it.

  14. Michael Cain says:

    I either accept the terms, whatever the hell they are, or the television I already paid for under whatever the hell the original terms of service were (I never agreed to those, or indeed, had any ideas that there would be any, before purchasing it) becomes a brick.

    Truly bricked, as no longer functions even as a simple television, or simply the “smart” features diminished or disabled?

  15. Sleeping Dog says:


    There’s no reason that heated seats can’t be added in the aftermarket, but as Mu points out the hdw is there already. It may require removal of the existing heaters, though that may trigger an error code or simply installing the aftermarket heaters over the factory. Someone somewhere has already worked this out.

  16. Skookum says:

    @charon: I use the Hoopla app to view or listen to books, music, and music on my old Philips TV. Last time I investigated casting my phone to the TV, I realized I didn’t have the latest technology that would enable doing so.

  17. Thomm says:

    @Jen: Heh. Probably nothing since those aftermarket controls aren’t integrated into the usual controlling modules. Fun fact…aftermarket seat heaters can only go on the back of the passenger seat so they don’t mess with the weight sensor for the passenger side airbag.

  18. Thomm says:

    @Sleeping Dog: nope. None of that will work if factory installed. Pulling the factory installed ones would cause problems downstream as the car’s system looks for them and, oddly, might even smack around some functions like your radio, HVAC, or really anything that runs through what is known generally as the “comfort module”. Especially in vehicles with climate control as the seat heaters/coolers will activate automatically with the heat/AC.

  19. Jen says:

    @Mu Yixiao: I understand that. What I am suggesting is telling the car company to pound sand with their stupid, controlling subscription and install after market seat warmers that are not so constrained.

    @Thomm: Yeah, I sort of suspected this would be the case–and you probably aren’t even going to be able to find cars without this installed already for these reasons. Bleh.

  20. just nutha says:

    As to “essentially you’ve been defrauded” and “how that is even legal,” those issues are why we have tort law. As to the issue of the wisdom/utility of suing service providers over this type of issue, that question explains the conflict over laissez-faire/caveat emptor economics as against the regulatory state. Trust the market, it always knows best.

  21. Skookum says:

    I would encourage those who don’t already utilize the open source universe to investigate open source technology.

    I am slowly switching to a secure email platform rather to wean myself from “free” email hosts that use my data as their revenue-producing product.

    We, as consumers, can make a difference in the products available to us by getting off of monopolistic platforms that invade our privacy and nickle-and-dime us to death.

  22. Skookum says:

    Sorry for typos. I type fast and have a million things to do, and I am a lousy proofreader.

  23. just nutha says:

    @charon: According to the box my Roku smart TV came in, one of the features is that I can use my phone as a remote, but because I can barely use my phone to make calls, I kinda doubt it. 🙁

  24. just nutha says:

    @Joe: When I have conversations about desktops with students at schools, they usually ask “who uses a desktop anymore?” And I can see their point. Not even the classes where they take coursework that leads to Microsoft certifications have desktop computers in them anymore.

  25. Thomm says:

    @Jen: eh…both companies are known to be skinflints on their base models (40k and the vehicle has manual seats… c’mon BMW) so it might take a model generation or two.

  26. Kathy says:

    Updating ebooks could cause major cognitive problems. You may quite accurately recall a line or passage in a novel, and later find it completely different when you re-read the ebook, or look it up, years later.

    A notice and summary of the update would be helpful for that.

    There’s a better case, complete with notice and summary, for updating reference books.

  27. Sleeping Dog says:


    Update on BMW’s subscriptions and what option are subscrip and which aren’t

    The primary takeaway is that, at least in the United States, BMW won’t charge a subscription for options already selected and paid for by the purchaser. In simple terms, if you buy a new BMW X3 or any Bimmer with heated seats either as standard equipment or a paid-for option, it’s a done deal. No monthly subscription is required to use, and that goes for subsequent owners who buy the car secondhand. If the feature is included or added as an option, it’s always available for the life of the car.

    The remainder of the article goes on to say that if you buy the option at the time of purchase, you get it, but if there is an option that you decide you want later, you can trial it through a subscription or simply buy it.

    I suspect the push back BMW received got them to change the program.

    BMW has done stuff like this before, where the marketing dept gets out in front of legal, engineering and PR.

  28. Gustopher says:

    @Matt Bernius: A lot of people who have ebooks get really annoyed whenever a movie comes out and their lovely book cover gets replaced by the movie tie-in cover.

    Movie tie-in covers are the worst.

  29. grumpy realist says:

    @Jen: There’s a crapload of patent applications covering “services” in automobiles.

    Any “dropping of service” causing any part of a vehicle bricking itself is going to open a car manufacturer to boatloads of liability, even if it’s just “I can’t have warm car seats”. (simple argument: lack of warm car seats in freezing weather + elderly driver ==> strained muscle/distraction/lack of mobility ==> contributory factor to car crash.)

    Car companies may think “the subscription model” is going to bring in lots of lovely moolah, but they’re just opening themselves to getting sued left right and centre.

  30. grumpy realist says:

    As said, speaking of car companies and interrupted services….